What is team ministry? It’s when two ordered ministers work together on a staff to serve a congregation or congregations that are grouped together and called a pastoral charge. It’s not easy, for many reasons. There are the ones most people think of, that clergy are trained to be leaders, expected to be leaders, and sharing that responsibility is hard. I remember colleague, very recently retired, who told me she no longer attends church because every decision she sees as a parishioner she thinks is not being done correctly. Clergy who are retired or in other lines of work sitting in a congregation tend to be either very silent (but it is obvious when they are in disagreement) or very critical. That makes for awkward relationships. So imagine what it is like to both be in active ministry sorting out the decisions, the direction they want to lead and the responsibility for who does what?
But there is more to the dynamic than that. There is also work load, if one minister works harder than the other there can be resentment. There is the resentment when one Minister is more popular than the other. There is the issue of how one gives the other feedback, how tricky that can be. There is the thorny challenge of what to do when a lay person tells you something unkind about your colleague.
All of this is a challenge. I know clergy teams that have gone to great lengths to work as a team, hiring consultants and coaches and working at process continually. I admire that but it begs the question if the team is working so hard at this process what will the church feels is being missed as attention is drawn inward instead of outward in mission and ministry. I know that going to retreats, spending hours and hours at such weekly meetings often makes me feel very “precious” and high maintenance. I do wonder where the servant aspect of ministry is to be found in such processes.
What I like and expect from team ministry is sharing with each other when the need arises. For a very social person, an off the scale extrovert, I actually don’t need or want a lot of social time with a colleague. I don’t know why. But when I am working I prefer to do work or to visit with the lay people in the church, who will help me know the pulse of the community. Of course I am interested in the insights of someone similarly trained as me. But I prefer these insights to be short and to the point. I want the bulk of my time to be interfacing with the people I serve, discerning their needs, their gifts and their organic identity and mission. I have witnessed far too many colleagues who in team used team building as an excuse to spend time with likeminded clergy professionals and avoid time with the people they are supposed to be serving.
I also like critical feedback, I find praise and affirmation problematic. That is provided the critical feedback is coming from a place of wanting better service to the church and not from a place of petty jealousy. I know that when a lay person tells me someone positive about me and critical of my colleague it is less about wanting improved ministry and more about “sucking up” to me. That stuff has no effect on me whatsoever. I never believe a word of it. I am much more interested and impressed when the person offers critical feedback about me and praise for my colleague. Now that impresses me!
In the end what I most like in team ministry is a) dedication to the same mission, b) difference in gifts that we can use to complement one another and c) not taking ourselves so seriously that we can’t laugh at ourselves or critique ourselves. The wildcard, the “extra” that I really appreciate is consideration, really understanding each other and offering to assist one another when the other needs assistance. Titles, turf, popularity, means nothing to me now.
If at the end of our time together we served the church, the cause of justice and the broader community well we made a difference. And that in the end is all that matters.